Interesting England: North Devon; Exmoor, Lynmouth and Lynton; Walks, Wildlife, History and Literature
North Devon has much to offer
South West England
When people mention the South West of England, what usually springs to mind? The English Riviera around Torquay in South Devon, the surfing beaches around Newquay in Cornwall, the wind-swept crags of Tintagel steeped in Arthurian legend and myth or maybe the countryside down to Land’s End?
South Devon is indeed popular for its sunshine and long sandy beaches but North Devon has its own appeal, having spectacular scenery both along the wave-beaten coast and inland on beautifully wild, misty and sometimes sun-bathed Exmoor. It is a walker’s paradise.
Exmoor National Park covers a large part of North Devon, stretching over a triangular area from Minehead to Ilfracombe along the north coast, then inland to Dulverton, offering a choice of scenery from plunging cliffs to hill-top cairns, chill misty valleys to warm wide skies. Exmoor gets its name from the River Exe which reaches the English Channel at Exmouth in South Devon. It has more than 600 miles of marked footpaths!
Travel in Style between Lynmouth & Lynton
Lynmouth & Lynton
The ‘twin’ villages of Lynmouth & Lynton are a good base from which to explore this impressive area. Lynmouth, as its name suggests, is where the River Lyn meets the Bristol Channel. It has a small harbour nestling between two promontories; typical English cottages survey the river walls and cling to the steep rock. The wide bay offers some shelter and is also popular with surfers both in summer and riding the wild horses in winter! (I suppose the name comes from the sea-breezes whipping up the crests of the waves to look like horses’ manes in the wind.) Lynton is the town perched on the rocks above, requiring a drive up steep sharp bends, or a walk up the zig-zag path guaranteed to let you know where your hamstrings are, or, for a more leisurely few minutes, a trip in the unique Victorian water-operated funicular railway.
The villagers claim to have the highest cliffs in England at Countisbury Hill, which soars up into the moor and bears the road east out of Lynmouth, as well as the deepest natural gorge at Watersmeet, up the tightly wooded Lyn valley to the north. Dramatic waterfalls, deep autumn russets or a vibrant palette of spring colours are some of the diversions as you explore.
Great Walks & Scenery
To the west, up in Lynton, a path leads you to the Valley of Rocks, formed during the Ice Age, where wild goats roam and cling to the steep slopes which plunge to the sea. A longer walk can take you to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on the moor affording breath-taking views across the Bristol Channel. Exmoor is wild, dramatic, misty and mysterious, breathtakingly beautiful and surprises you with sudden gullies hidden in sweeping green mossy folds of hillside. The coastline is brown-red rugged and vanishes steeply into the waves.
It is worth taking time to experience the varied terrain of all these walks; you can enjoy the dappled shade of the Lyn Valley, the heady route along the coastal path or a journey across the rolling moors, past packhorse bridges, through fords and under mares’ tails skies. You might encounter goats, Exmoor ponies, red deer or foxes. You’ll probably see buzzards circling, hear them ‘mewing’, often in twos or threes far, far above you. If you’re lucky, you could also catch a glimpse of a Merlin, one of the smallest but fast birds of prey.
Terrible floods in 1952 led to the river being redirected, the bed widened and its banks being heightened and strengthened, to better withstand flash floods gushing off the moor and pounding down the Lyn valley. There is a museum in Lynmouth dedicated to the story of the flood; photographic and first-hand witnesses of the disaster are displayed.
Example of the Devastation
Exmoor has also provided a dramatic backdrop to several works of literature. Doone Valley is a much-visited part of the moor; R D Blackmore’s 1869 novel ‘Lorna Doone’ unfolds among these hills and valleys. It narrates ‘a romance of Exmoor’ set in the late 17th century; you can easily imagine ‘girt Jan Ridd’ striding across the moor to rescue Lorna from the pistol-bearing Carver Doone who kept her prisoner in a guarded hamlet deep in the valley. (‘Girt’ is a west country dialect word meaning large, best said with an exaggerated ‘r’!) Other authors of note impressed by Exmoor were Coleridge and Wordsworth, Margaret Drabble (The Witch of Exmoor 1996), Southey and Shelley. Henry Williamson wrote ‘Tarka the Otter’, set in the waters of this area where otters can still be seen. It is said that Coleridge and the Wordsworths planned Coleridge’s ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ whilst walking along the path of the Valley of Rocks. The name ‘Lorna’ is one of a few made-up names from literature, along with ‘Wendy’ from ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Pollyanna’ from the story of the same name.
Titles with Links to ExmoorClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Place to Lay your Head
Let’s return to our base in Lynton. There are, of course, lots of hotels and B&Bs in which to stay but I chose the Lynton Cottage Hotel; it has such a friendly, relaxing atmosphere, it's comfortable with excellent food, a bar, and the views are incomparable. It is perched high above the bay, on a rocky ledge and looks over to Countisbury Hill, across the channel to Wales (if somewhat misty!) and up the deep valley of the River Lyn. What better place to stay and relax after a day’s walking or sightseeing?
C S Lewis visited here in 1925 and said the ‘view from the balcony was beyond everything I have seen.’ Order a cream tea, sit on the terrace and you’ll see what he meant - the view will astound you! The light constantly changes the mood and aspect whatever the weather. You are only two minutes from the dizzying funicular railway, much the easiest way to visit the beach and enjoy the views on the way. Or you can walk down through the hotel gardens to join the public path winding down to the old fishing cottages, craft shops and local ice creams! A walk the other way will take you to the Valley of Rocks.
Be it spring, summer, autumn or winter, this quiet, comfy, gentle yet wild and wondrous corner of North Devon deserves at least a day’s visit, if not a week’s holiday to discover all it has to offer.
Comfort with Wonderful ViewsClick thumbnail to view full-size
- Lynmouth Before and After the 1952 Flood
After visiting Lynmouth in England I was drawn to the tragedy of the 1952 flood there and the lives it impacted. This my research on that topic and my memoriam to those who died there.
How do you like to spend a holiday?
© 2012 Ann Carr